Breeders’ Cup Race Previews and Picks
by John Piassek
All week long on Danonymous Racing, we’ll have picks & analysis for all 13 Breeders’ Cup races from the Danonymous cast. We’ve got myself, managing editor and Maryland handicapper John Piassek, providing picks & analysis of the big one, the Breeders’ Cup Classic!
2015- American Pharoah
2013- Mucho Macho Man
2012- Fort Larned
It’s time for the biggest race of the weekend: the Breeders’ Cup Classic! Last year’s renewal was a thriller, with 3-year-old champion Arrogate running down eventual Horse of the Year California Chrome to win it. Will Arrogate duplicate the magic again this year, or will a new champion emerge? I’ll break down all 11 contenders.
1- Arrogate: Before this year’s San Diego Handicap, Arrogate was everyone’s favorite for Horse of the Year. He was coming off a string of dominant victories, including a powerful score in the Dubai World Cup, and looked to be unbeatable.
What was supposed to be a tune-up in the San Diego turned into a disaster, as Arrogate never fired and lost by fifteen lengths. He ran better in the Pacific Classic next time out, but lost by half a length to Collected.
Since those defeats, the question of whether Arrogate likes Del Mar is an open question. He’s worked well since that Pacific Classic loss, including a blazing five-furlong workout on October 30. However, it’s likely that he’ll go off favored. Would you want to take low odds on a horse who lost his last two races as a heavy favorite in any other situation?
2- War Decree: One of two Europeans in the field, he’s coming off a grade 3 victory over the synthetic track at Dundalk in Ireland. European horses are usually up against it in the Classic; the only one to win it on dirt was the improbable Arcangues in 1993. I doubt this horse is as good as Arcangues, and there’s better strategies to employ than chasing longshots.
3- Win the Space: LOL
4- War Story: He has a graded stakes victory under his belt this year, having won the Brooklyn at Belmont Park in June. However, he turned in two duds in the Whitney and the Woodward, where he didn’t finish in the same zip code as Gun Runner. I don’t think he’ll be able to make up 13 lengths in this spot.
5- Gun Runner: He’s in the driver’s seat for the Horse of the Year title right now, having won three grade 1 races in a row. His brisnet figures have been spectacular, having earned a 114 last out while winning the Woodward. There’s some questions over whether or not he can handle 1 1/4 miles, but he was a decent second to Arrogate at that distance in the Dubai World Cup. Besides, it’s not like he would have lost any of his three grade 1s this year if they were ten furlongs.
6- Mubtahijj: A recent transfer to the Bob Baffert barn, he made his 2017 North American debut last out with a victory in the Awesome Again Stakes. It was professional, but he didn’t beat much in that race (primarily because most of his would-be competition is also in the Baffert barn), and earned a mediocre figure of 102 in that race. He’s never shown the ability to run any better than that, so unless everyone else in the field regresses, he won’t be good enough to win here.
7- Churchill: The other European invader in the field. He showed promise earlier in the year, winning both the British and Irish 2000 Guineas. Unfortunately, he’s 0-for-4 since then, which is not a streak you want to be on going into the Breeders’ Cup. As previously mentioned, foreign invaders rarely run well in this race anyway. I would be surprised.
8- West Coast: Alongside Arrogate and Gun Runner, he’s one of the legitimate HOTY contenders in this race. He made himself the heavy favorite for the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award with victories in the Travers Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby, defeating almost every important 3-year-old in the process. His figures have been strong, with a 108 and a 112 in Pennsylvania and New York, respectively. He has plenty of early speed, and has the power to rate off of likely front-runner Gun Runner.
Now, if Gun Runner fires his A-game, he may just keep going and leave West Coast behind. However, good, late-improving 3-year-olds are always a danger to win this race (see: Arrogate, Tiznow, Concern), and West Coast fits that bill perfectly. Among the big three, he may be the best value in the field, too.
9- Gunnevara: Both of his victories this year have come at Gulfstream Park, one of which was in a virtual exhibition. He ran well in the Travers last out, coming from behind to finish second to West Coast. He hasn’t been seen since, and all of his figures outside of the Travers are sub-par. I wouldn’t be shocked if he came in the top three or four, but I do not expect anything more.
10- Pavel: He’s only raced four times, but he’s improved his figure in all those races. He burst onto the national scene with a big victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx, defeating the best of the B-team 3-year-olds. After that, he finished third to the very good (and somehow not in the Classic) Diversify, who was the beneficiary of an easy front-running trip.
Like West Coast, Pavel is a three-year-old improving at the right time. It remains to be seen if he can take the next step forward and win this one, but at a 20/1 morning, he cannot be disregarded.
11- Collected: Perhaps the forgotten horse of this year’s Classic. He, of course, pulled off the upset over Arrogate in the Pacific Classic, holding him off to win by 1/2 length. He’s won three other stakes on the year as well, and has improved his figure almost every time out. In the Pacific Classic, he ran a 110, which is likely good enough to win this race. He’s a front-runner, so his outside post is not great. Still, he’s one to keep in mind as a contender.
1st- 8 West Coast
2nd- 5 Gun Runner
3rd- 11 Collected
4th- 10 Pavel